Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Book Whisperer Reviews Joanne Harris

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Joanne Harris has written fourteen novels, numerous short stories, and TV scripts. Her books also include two cookbooks. In My French Kitchen, Harris along with Fran Warde, an accomplished food writer, serves up “her treasured collection of family recipes that has been passed down from generation to generation.” The recipe for Vianne’s spiced hot chocolate is in My French Kitchen in the chapter devoted to French chocolates of all kinds.

Sadly, My French Kitchen was not available at the library, but I found an online recipe that sounds similar to Vianne’s spiced hot chocolate. From this link: http://www.madewithpink.com/2015/11/cinnamon-spiced-french-hot-chocolate/

Cinnamon Spiced French Hot Chocolate

Ingredients

  • 125ml Whole Milk
  • 150ml Single Cream
  • 75ml Double Cream
  • 140g Dark Chocolate (80%), chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/8 tsp Cinnamon
  • Sprinkle of Sea Salt
  • Sweetened Whipped Cream to serve

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk, single cream, and double cream until hot, but not boiling. Remove from the heat.
  2. Add chopped dark chocolate to the hot cream, and allow to sit for 3-5 mins so it begins to melt.
  3. Slowly start string from the inside out, so the chocolate is incorporated as much as possible. Return to a low heat, and continue string until all of the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream.
  4. Add in vanilla, cinnamon and sea salt and stir until combined,
  5. Pour into mugs, and top with fresh whipped cream.

Harris writes about matters of identity, mother/child relationships, emotional attachments evoked by food, the outsider, and superstition. With father-figures frequently missing from her work, Harris explores issues of attachment and longing. Peaches for Father Francis examines several of Harris’s favorite themes: the outsider, food and its connections, sexism, crimes against women, and missing and found fathers.

While Peaches for Father Francis completes the trilogy also comprised of Chocolat and The Girl With No Shadow, each book stands alone well. Of course, reading all three gives a more complete picture of the recurring characters. Like most of her other novels, Peaches for Father Francis provides readers with perspectives from Father Francis and Vianne. The chapters alternate; occasionally, however, one character will speak in adjoining chapters. Since both Father Francis and Vianne speak in first person, the chapters could be confusing. Harris has resolved that problem by identifying the speaker with a symbol at the beginning of each chapter: a crescent moon for Vianne and a cross for Father Francis. Since I often skip those clues, thanks to my friend Sue Attalla for pointing out the error of my ways! Below, find the alternate title.

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The dual-narrator allows Harris to develop the characters more fully than if the story played out with only one first-person narrator. This technique also gives more depth to even the minor characters since readers see them from two perspectives.

Peaches for Father Francis takes place in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, a fictional village. Vianne and her daughter Anouk have been gone for eight years when they return, supposedly for a visit. Vianne receives a letter from Luc Clairmont, now a college student. Luc encloses a letter his grandmother Armande had written before her death and entrusted to Luc; her instructions indicated he should not open his letter until his twenty-first birthday. Inside, he found the letter addressed to Vianne. That letter “from beyond the grave” draws Vianne, Anouk, and her younger daughter Rosette back to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. Roux, her companion and Rosette’s father, asks Vianne to remain in Paris with him and not to make the sentimental journey back. However, Vianne feels drawn to return and fulfill Armande’s request to return because “Lansquenet will need you again. But I can’t count on our stubborn cure’ to tell you when that happens. So do me a final courtesy. Take a trip back to Lansquenet. Bring the children. Roux, if he’s there. Put flowers on an old lady’s grave…. There used to be a peach tree growing up the side of my house. If you come in the summertime, the fruit should be ripe and ready to pick…. And remember, everything returns. The river brings everything back in the end.”

The river in Lansquenet plays an important part in the story, almost like another character. The heat of the summer adds another dimension because the prolonged heat with lack of rain makes people short-tempered and combined with events in the village, the heat, river, and tempers create volatile circumstances, especially with so many secrets on all sides.

Sadly, Vianne discovers that her former chocolate shop has been partially destroyed in a fire. Ines Bencharki, “the Woman in Black,” a Muslim woman new to the village since Vianne was there, has been teaching girls in a school held in the old chocolate shop. Ines and her daughter Du’a also lived in the building. They escaped the fire; most of the Muslim community blames Father Francis for setting the fire. When she learns about the fire, Vianne does not believe Father Francis to be responsible despite the old conflicts between them from the past and that still haunt them today.

Vianne settles in Armande’s cottage with Anouk and Rosette. Anouk immediately finds old friends, and Rosette, who does not speak much except in whistles, makes new friends, especially with Maya, a young Muslim girl. The story is complicated with past issues which Vianne must explore both sides of the community in order to help the village as Armande knew Vianne must.

To avoid spoilers, I would say read Peaches for Father Francis to find out what is dividing the community, what happens to Father Francis, what does Ines’ hide under her veil, and how does Vianne deal with all these problems. I have omitted a number of characters and situations from the story to entice readers to read the book!

WordPress has been extremely temperamental today, a problem I have not encountered previously and hope I don’t again!

 

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews Magpie Murders

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NO SPOILERS INCLUDED!

Let me begin by writing that I love Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. What’s not to like? The novel includes the English countryside, the setting of so many of my favorite mysteries. Horowitz also features Atticus Pünd, a brilliant, foreign PI, not unlike Hercule Poirot.  Atticus Pünd also has his sidekick, James Fraser, a slightly dim, but efficient assistant. The requisite village meddler is Mary Blakiston, who quickly dies under somewhat suspicious circumstances. Sir Magnus Pye is the local aristocrat, haughty and unapproachable. The cast of characters continues, thus providing quite a wide range of suspects for Atticus Pünd and the police detective Chubb.

Horowitz has woven a mystery within a mystery. In the beginning,Susan Ryeland, Head of Fiction at Cloverleaf Books, provides a warning to readers:

“But Magpie Murders really did change everything for me. I no longer live in Crouch End. I no longer have my job…. That evening as I reached out and turned the first page of the typescript, I had no idea of the journey I was about to begin and, quite frankly, I wish I’d never allowed myself to get pulled on board…. Unlike me, you have been warned.”

Now, what mystery reader can resist that opening? Following Susan’s warning, readers find a brief biography of Alan Conway and a list of other Atticus Pünd mysteries. The next page contains “Praise for Atticus Pünd” with quotes from authors and newspapers. What follows is the Magpie Murder mystery.

Unfortunately, as Susan and we read, we discover that the last two chapters are missing! Is Mary Blakiston’s death an accident, or has someone killed her? Then who kills Sir Magnus Pye, whose death is clearly not an accident since his head has been severed by an ancient sword taken from a suit of armor that stands in his ancestral entry. Who has stolen the ancient Roman treasures found in the Dells and taken from Sir Pye’s home?

Anonymous letters, missing pages to a book, infidelity, stolen property, and mysterious night-time visitors all add up to a book that will keep readers thinking long after they have finished both mysteries contained within the pages. Add to those items, a busybody old woman who keeps a journal of people’s sins that she observes. A vial of poison goes missing from Dr. Redwing’s surgery.

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The list of suspects is many. Not only do we have the mystery of the deaths, thefts, and missing pages, Alan Conway himself dies, apparently of suicide, but is that the real story? Susan sets about locating the missing pages of the ninth and last Atticus Pünd mystery and at the same time is determined to prove that Alan has not committed suicide.

Susan is certain that the key to Alan’s death lies in the novel, and, particularly, in the missing pages. To that end, she makes a list of the fictional characters and the real people in Alan’s life and begins a methodical look at both.

Horowitz has set the story up to begin with Susan’s reading of the fictional Alan Conway’s last novel, includes the novel early on, followed by Susan’s attempt to solve the mystery of the missing pages and Alan’s death. Magpie Murders ends with Susan’s discovery of the last pages and her solving of both mysteries—Magpie Murders and Alan’s death.

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Anthony Horowitz created the popular British police series Midsomer Murders. He enjoys playing with words and fashioning twists to plots. He gives his fictional author Alan Conway the same interests in word play. Both Horowitz and Conway like anagrams and other puzzles. The entire plot device is engaging. As readers, we are eager to find out what happens in the fictional story of Magpie Murders and then to discover whether Alan has, indeed, committed suicide rather than face his terminal cancer diagnosis.

Horowitz and Conway are both Agatha Christie fans. The stories pay homage to Christie by using names of characters and places from her stories. In one line, Horowitz even pokes fun at himself when a character says of the title, “I thought it sounded too much like Midsomer Murders.”

Horowitz is a prolific writer, spending as much as ten hours a day in his garden shed office writing. Besides Midsomer Murders, Horowitz has written for Foyle’s War, Murder Most Horrid, and Murder in Mind. He has written the Alex Rider series of novels as well as two modern-day mysteries: Moriarty and Trigger Mortis. Janet Maslin of The New York Times review includes this praise: Magpie Murders is a double puzzle for puzzle fans, who don’t often get the classicism they want from contemporary thrillers.”

Readers will find Magpie Murders entertaining and engaging.  With the number of potential murderers and thieves, readers will stay busy trying to work out who, if anyone, has committed murder.

Watch this interview with Anthony Horowitz about Magpie Murders:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book Whisperer Reviews An Oklahoman’s Boyhood Memoir

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Coon Mountain: Scenes from a Childhood in the Oklahoma Hills by Glen Ross depicts a time long gone. He was born 7 August 1929 in “what was once the Indian Territory, during a thunderstorm.” Ross tells his story of growing up in the Cookson hills with humor and honesty. The family was small with only Glen and his older brother along with his mother and father. However, the family often had other relatives living with them from time-to-time.

From reading Ross’s biography, readers will not be surprised to learn that he became a creative writing professor at Central State U in Edmond for years. No doubt, some of the early memories come from family stories, but that fact does not make the story less true. Ross gives readers a picture of the countryside where he grew up along with his observations on the beauty and danger found there.

Ross’s mother, one of twelve children, grew up in Arkansas and remained proud of “her respectable Arkansas upbringing. Though his mother liked to say she arrived in OK via covered wagon, she would admit upon being pressed that the journey was only thirteen miles. Ross tells readers that to his mother “Arkansas stood for respectability and cultural refinement.” Further, she felt that Oklahoma “only pretended to be a state to please the federal government,” but it was in reality still Indian Territory.

Ross’s father was a resourceful man, as one would have to be before, during, and after the Great Depression. When the family moved to their home in the hills, getting water to the house was a major problem. Ross’s father figured out how to get the water to flow through a pipe. That did not provide water in the house, but, at least, the family did not have to haul water up the hill and into the house daily.

Ross describes working in his uncle’s general store. I could relate to his story even though he is somewhat older than I. My paternal grandfather opened a general merchandise store in Parkdale, AR, just ten miles north of the Louisiana state line. I like to describe the store as Walmart before Walmart in that Granddaddy sold everything from groceries to clothing to cattle feed and almost anything else one might need. He just didn’t open multiple stores as Sam Walton did.

While the days of Ross’s childhood are in the past, his story is relevant in that readers get a realistic picture of the time following his birth in 1929 well into the Great Depression and afterward. Kirkus Reviews describes Coon Mountain: Scenes from a Childhood in the Oklahoma Hills as “autobiographical tales, told with elegant simplicity, of a boyhood spent among the rocky bluffs and woods of Cherokee country.” The review continues with “a marvelous evocation, related with Twain-like skill, of a recent past so utterly vanished as to seem ancient.”